Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) versus Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)

Download (0)

Full text


Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) versus Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)


Computer Science Dept. of FCSIT University of Malaya (UM)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a_habibi_l@hotmail.com

MASOOD MANSOORI Computer Science Dept. of FCSIT

University of Malaya (UM) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia masood.mansoori@gmail.com

AMIR SEYED DANESH Software Engineering Dept. of FCSIT

University of Malaya (UM) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia amir_s_d@perdana.um.edu.my

Abstract— Wireless technology has been gaining rapid popularity for some years. Adaptation of a standard depends on the ease of use and level of security it provides. In this case, contrast between wireless usage and security standards show that the security is not keeping up with the growth paste of end user’s usage. Current wireless technologies in use allow hackers to monitor and even change the integrity of transmitted data. Lack of rigid security standards has caused companies to invest millions on securing their wireless networks. There are three major types of security standards in wireless. In our previous paper which was presented in ICFCC2009 Conference in Kuala Lumpur and published by IEEE Computer Society [1], we explained the structure of WEP as a first wireless security standard and discussed all its versions, problems and improvements. Now, we try to explain all of WPA versions and problems with the best solutions and finally make a comparison between WEP and WPA. Then we are in the next phase which is to explain the structure of last standard (WPA2) and we hope that we will publish a complete comparison among wireless security techniques in the near future and recommend a new proposal as a new protocol.

Keywords— WEP, WPA, TKIP, PSK, Wireless Security , 802.11


With reference to our previous paper in WEP (ICFCC2009 Conference), The 802.11 WLAN standards specify the two lowest layer of the OSI network model which are physical and data link layers. The major goals of IEEE for creating these standards were made different approach to the physical layer, for example different frequencies, different encoding methods, and share the same higher layers. They have succeeded, and the Media Access

link layer. As you can see in “Fig.1”, in the OSI model of network, such protocols as TCP/IP, IPX, NetBEUI, and AppleTalk, still exist at higher layers. Each layer utilizes the services of the underside layers. “Fig. 1”

In WLANs, privacy is achieved by data contents protection with encryption. Encryption is optional in 802.11 WLANs, but without it, any other standard wireless device, can read all traffic in network. There have been three major generations of security approaches, which is mentioned below:

• WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)

• WPA (Wi-Fa Protected Access)

• WPA2/802.11i (Wi-Fa Protection Access, Version 2) Each of these protocols has two generations named as personal and enterprise template.

Fig-1: 802.11 AND OSI MODELL


A. In the sender side:

WEP try to use from four operations to encrypt the data (plaintext).At first, the secret key used in WEP algorithm is 40-bit long with a 24-bit Initialization Vector (IV) that is concatenated to it for acting as the encryption/decryption key. Secondly, the resulting key acts as the seed for a Pseudo-Random Number Generator (PRNG).Thirdly, the plaintext throw in a integrity algorithm and concatenate by the plaintext again. Fourthly, the result of key sequence and ICV will go to RC4 algorithm. A final encrypted message is made by attaching the IV in front of the Cipher text. Now in “Fig.2” define the objects and explain the detail of operations. [1]

Figure 2: WEP encryption Algorithm (Sender Side)

B. In the Recipient side:

WEP try to use from five operations to decrypt the received side (IV + Cipher text).At first, the Pre-Shared Key and IV concatenated to make a secret key. Secondly, the Cipher text and Secret Key go to in CR4 algorithm and a plaintext come as a result. Thirdly, the ICV and plaintext will separate. Fourthly, the plaintext goes to Integrity Algorithm to make a new ICV (ICV’) and finally the new ICV (ICV‘) compare with original ICV. In “Fig.3” you can see the objects and the detail of operations schematically: [1]

Figure 3: WEP encryption Algorithm (Recipient Side)

There are some other implementations of WEP that all of them are non-standard fixes and implemented by some companies. I will explain 3 of them here:


This stopgap enhancement to WEP was present in some of the early 802.11i drafts. It was implement able on some (not all) hardware not able to handle WPA or WPA2, and extended both the IV and the key values to 128 bits. It was hoped to eliminate the duplicate IV deficiency as well as stop brute force key attacks. After it became clear that the overall WEP algorithm was deficient however (and not just the IV and key sizes) and would require even more fixes, both the WEP2 name and original algorithm were dropped. The two extended key lengths remained in what eventually became

B. WEP plus

WEP+ is a proprietary enhancement to WEP by Agree Systems (formerly a subsidiary of Lucent Technologies) that enhances WEP security by avoiding "weak IVs". It is only completely effective when WEP plus is used at both ends of the wireless connection. As this cannot easily be enforced, it remains a serious limitation. It is possible that successful attacks against WEP plus will eventually be found. It also does not necessarily prevent replay attacks.

C. Dynamic WEP

Change WEP keys dynamically. Vendor-specific feature provided by several vendors such as 3Com. The dynamic change idea made it into 802.11i as part of TKIP, but not for the actual WEP algorithm.


With reference to our previous article in ICFCC 2009 Conference [1], we explain about problems and solutions on WEP, finally we can found these results from our previous article:

ƒ WEP does not Prevent forgery of packets.

ƒ WEP does not prevent replay attacks. An attacker can simply record and replay packets as desired and they will be accepted as legitimate.

ƒ WEP uses RC4 improperly. The keys used are very weak, and can be brute-forced on standard computers in hours to minutes, using freely available software.

ƒ WEP reuses initialization vectors. A variety of available cryptanalytic methods can decrypt data without knowing the encryption key.

ƒ WEP allows an attacker to undetectably modify a message without knowing the encryption key.

ƒ Key management is lack and updating is poor.

ƒ Problem in the RC-4 algorithm.

ƒ Easy forging of authentication messages.

And we found these Enhancements over WEP in that article:

ƒ Improved data encryption (TKIP)

ƒ User authentication (Use EAP Method)

ƒ Integrity (Michael Method)

Now we try to explain the WPA structure and discuss about problems and improvements on it.


The WPA came with the purpose of solving the problems in the WEP cryptography method, without the users needs to change the hardware. The standard WPA similar to WEP specifies two operation manners:


1. Personal WPA or WPA-PSK (Key Pre-Shared) that use for small office and home for domestic use authentication which does not use an authentication server and the data cryptography key can go up to 256 bits. Unlike WEP, this can be any alphanumeric string and is used only to negotiate the initial session with the AP. Because both the client and the AP already possess this key, WPA provides mutual authentication, and the key is never transmitted over the air.

2. Enterprise WPA or Commercial that the authentication is made by an authentication server 802.1x, generating an excellent control and security in the users' traffic of the wireless network. This WPA uses 802.1X+EAP for authentication, but again replaces WEP with the more advanced TKIP encryption. No preshared key is used here, but you will need a RADIUS server. And you get all the other benefits 802.1X+EAP provides, including integration with the Windows login process and support for EAP-TLS and PEAP authentication methods.

The main reason why WPA generated after WEP is that the WPA allows a more complex data encryption on the TKIP protocol (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) and assisted by MIC (Message Integrity Check) also, which function is to avoid attacks of bit-flipping type easily applied to WEP by using a hashing technique.

Refer to the “Fig.2” and “Fig.3” you can see the whole picture of WEP processes in sender and receiver sides, now we draw a whole picture of WPA process “Fig. 4”.

Figure 4: WPA Encryption Algorithm (TKIP)

As you see, TKIP uses the same WEP's RC4 Technique, but making a hash before the increasing of the algorithm RC4. A duplication of the initialization vector is made. One copy is sent to the next step, and the other is hashed (mixed) with the base key.

After performing the hashing, the result generates the key to the package that is going to join the first copy of the initialization vector, occurring the increment of the algorithm RC4. After that, there's the generation of a sequential key with an XOR from the text that you wish to cryptograph, generating then the cryptography text. Finally, the message is ready for send. It is encryption and decryption will performed by inverting the process.


In the comparison between TKIP and WEP there are four improvements in Encryption algorithm of WPA that added to WEP:

1. A cryptographic message integrity code, or MIC, called Michael, to defeat forgeries.

2. A new IV sequencing discipline, to remove replay attacks from the attacker’s arsenal.

3. A per-packet key mixing function, to de-correlate the public IVs from weak keys.

4. A rekeying mechanism, to provide fresh encryption and integrity keys, undoing the threat of attacks stemming from key reuse.

Now we explain these four algorithms one by one:

MIC or Michae: Michael is the name of the TKIP message

integrity code. It is an entirely new MIC designed that has 64-bits length and represented as two 32-bit little-Endian words (K0,K1). The Michael function first pads a message with the hexadecimal value 0x5a and enough zero pad to bring the total message length to a multiple of 32-bits, then partitions the result into a sequence of 32-bit words M1 M2 Mn, and finally computes the tag from the key and the message words using a simple iterative structure:

(L,R) ← (K0,K1) do i from 1 to n


(L,R) ← Swap(L,R) return (L,R) as the tag

The Michael verification predicate reruns the tagging function over the message and returns the result of a bit-wise compare of this locally computed tag and the tag received with the message.

The security level of a MIC is usually measured in bits. If the security level of a MIC is s bits, then, by definition, the time required for an attacker to construct a forgery is, on average, after about 2–s+1 packet.

new IV sequencing discipline For Defeating Replayd:

One forgery a MIC cannot detect is a replayed packet. This occurs when an adversary records a valid packet in flight and later retransmits it.

To defeat replays, TKIP reuses the WEP IV field as a packet sequence number. Both transmitter and receiver initialize the packet sequence space to zero whenever new TKIP keys are set, and the transmitter increments the sequence number with each packet it sends. TKIP requires the receiver to enforce proper IV sequencing of arriving packets. TKIP defines a packet as out-of-sequence if its IV is the same or smaller than a previous correctly received MPDU associated with the same encryption key. If an MPDU arrives out of order, then it is considered to be a replay, and the receiver discards it and increments a replay counter.

Key Mixing:

As you saw in “Fig.1” and “Fig.2” WEP constructs a per-packet RC4 key by concatenating a base key and the per-packet IV. The new per-packet key that called the TKIP key mixing function substitutes a temporal key for the WEP base key and constructs the WEP per-packet key in a novel fashion.


Temporal keys are so named because they have a fixed lifetime and are replaced frequently.

The mixing function operates in two phases:

• Phase 1 eliminates the same key from use by all links: Phase 1 combines the 802 MAC addresses of the local wireless interface and the temporal key by iteratively XORing each of their bytes to index into an S-box, to produce an intermediate key. Stirring the local MAC address into the temporal key in this way causes different stations and access points to generate different intermediate keys, even if they begin from the same temporal key—a situation common in ad hoc deployments. This construction forces the stream of generated per-packet encryption keys to differ at every station, satisfying the first design goal.

The Phase 1 intermediate key must be computed only when the temporal key is updated, so most implementations cache its value as a performance optimization.

• Phase 2 de-correlates the public IV from known the per-packet key:

Phase 2 uses a tiny cipher to encrypt the packet sequence number under the intermediate key, producing a 128-bit per-packet key. Actuality, the first 3 bytes of Phase 2 output are exactly mach to the WEP IV, and the last 13 to the WEP base key, as existing WEP hardware expects to concatenate a base key to an IV to form the per-packet key. This design accomplishes the second mixing function design goal, by making it difficult for a rival to be connected to IVs and per-packet keys.

Rekeying or Defeating key collision attacks:

Rekeying delivers the fresh keys consumed by the various TKIP algorithms. Generally there are three key types: temporal keys, encryption keys and master keys.

Occupying the lowest level of the hierarchy are the temporal keys consumed by the TKIP privacy and authentication algorithms proper. TKIP employs a pair of temporal key types: a 128-bit encryption key, and a second 64-bit key for data integrity. TKIP uses a separate pair of temporal keys in each direction of an association. Hence, each association has two pairs of keys, for a total of four temporal keys. TKIP identifies this set of keys by a two-bit identifier called a

WEP key id. Now we can drawing a new figure from TKIP process with details of these four parts. ”fig.5”

Figure 5: TKIP Detail Encryption Algorithm


In November 2003, Robert Moskowitz released “Weakness in Passphrase Choice in WPA Interface”. In this paper he explains a formula that would reveal the passphrase by performing a dictionary attack against WPA-PSK networks.

This weakness was based on the pairwise master key (PMK) that is derived from the concatenation of the passphrase, SSID, length of the SSID and nonces (a number or bit string used only once in each session). The result string is hashed 4,096 times to generate a 256-bit value and then combine with nonce values. The required information for generate and verify this key (per session) is broadcast with normal traffic and is really obtainable; the challenge then becomes the reconstruction of the original values. He explains that the pairwise transient key (PTK) is a keyed-HMAC function based on the PMK; by capturing the four-way authentication handshake, the attacker has the data required to subject the passphrase to a dictionary attack. Finally he found that “a key generated from a passphrase of less than about 20 characters is unlikely to deter attacks.”[10]

For confirmation, in late 2004, Takehiro Takahashi, then a student at Georgia Tech, released WPA Cracker and Josh Wright, a network engineer and well-known security lecturer, released cowpatty around the same time. Both tools are written for Linux systems and perform a brute-force dictionary attack against WPA-PSK networks in an attempt to determine the shared passphrase. Both require the user to supply a dictionary file and a dump file that contains the WPA-PSK four-way handshake. Both function similarly; however, cowpatty contains an automatic parser while WPA Cracker requires the user to perform a manual string extraction. Additionally, cowpatty has optimized the HMAC-SHA1 function and is somewhat faster. Each tool uses the PBKDF2 algorithm that governs PSK hashing to attack and determine the passphrase. Neither is extremely fast or effective against larger passphrases, though, as each must perform 4,096 HMAC-SHA1 related to the values as described in the Moskowitz paper. [11]


In this research, continuing our previous paper in Conference ICFCC 2009, at first, we explain the structure of WEP in sender and receiver side and describe all steps verbally and practically at the same time as a brief of our previous paper on the first generation of wireless security protocols.

Then we discuss about the second generation of wireless security protocol as WPA and define the two modes and try to describe all major Improvements on WPA such as cryptographic message integrity code or MIC, new IV sequencing discipline, per-packet key mixing function and rekeying mechanism then make a whole diagram for WPA encryption and decryption. Finally, we explain about the major problems on WPA that happened in the PSK part of algorithm.

It is hoped that with a continuing paper in the next conference, we will explain the third generation wireless security protocol (WPA2) and try to make a whole diagram of it and completely discuss its weaknesses and improvements.



We would like to express our appreciation to our parents and all the teachers and lecturers who helped us to understand the importance of knowledge and showed us the best way to gain it.


[1] Arash Habibi Lashkari, F. Towhidi, R. S. Hoseini, “Wired Equivalent Privacy(WEP)”, ICFCC Kuala Lumpur Conference, Published by IEEE Computer Society, Indexed by THAMSON ISI, 2009 [2] Donggang Liu, P. N., “Security for Wireless Sensor Networks”,

Springer., November, 2006

[3] Garcia, R. H. a. M., “AN ANALYSIS OF WIRELESS SECURITY”, CCSC: South Central Conference. 2006

[4] Kempf, J., “Wireless Internet Security: Architecture and Protocols “,Cambridge University Press. October, 2008

[5] Hani Ragab Hassan, Yacine Challal, “Enhanced WEP: An efficient solution to WEP threats”, IEEE 2005

[6] Halil Ibrahim BULBUL, Ihsan BATMAZ, Mesut OZEL, “Comparison of WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) Mechanism, WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and RSN (Robust Security Network) Security Protocols”; e-Forensics January 2008, Adelaide ,Australia. [7] Gamal Selim, Hesham M. El Badawy, Mohamed Abdul Salam,


[8] Vebjørn Moen, H˚avard Raddum, Kjell J. Hole, “Weaknesses in the Temporal Key Hash of WPA”, University of Bergen,2005

[9] Arunesh Mishra, William, A. Arbaugh, “An Initial Security Analysis of The IEEE 802.1X Standard”, University of Meryland, 2002 [10] Vebjørn Moen, H˚avard Raddum, Kjell J. Hole; “Weaknesses in the

Temporal Key Hash of WPA” ; Mobile Computing and Communications Review,2005

[11] John L. MacMichael ; “ Auditing Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) Pre-Shared Key Mode”; Linux Journal, 2005




Related subjects :